Sunday, August 15, 2010

Title Contenders (Arsenal)

Last season Liverpool Keeper Pepe Reina would have made a simple catch of a Theo Wolcott cross deep in injury time, and Anfield would have exploded in celebration of a 1-0 win over Arsenal. This season new signing Marouane Chamakh went in for a challenge on Reina, caused him to spill the ball, and Arsenal salvaged a 1-1 draw.

We all know Arsenal's biggest problems, the things that have kept them from winning the league the last few seasons, when they clearly had enough talent to do so. I think they have addressed, or are trying to address, all of these issues, and if they do, they will be right in the thick of the title fight come May.

The first and most obvious problem is Manuel Almunia. That's a little harsh on him actually. He is not a horrible keeper, and would probably be adequate at a club like West Brom or Wigan, but he is nowhere near good enough for Arsenal. Arsenal have been linked with Mark Schwarzer, who is slightly better but a lot older, and Shay Given, who is a lot better and a similar age to Almunia. If Arsene Wenger weren't so stubborn he would give Man City whatever they want for Given, but the man is ideologically opposed to paying large transfer fees for older players, and that seems to be particularly true for goalkeepers.

The second problem is the lack of depth in the center of defense. Thomas Vermaelen is an outstanding defender, and new signing Laurent Koscielny looks quite good as well, but there is really nothing beyond that. And I mean nothing. Johann Djourou is the only other senior player with any experience at central defender. After him, Wenger will have to drop a midfielder such as Alex Song into the back line. As luck would have it, Koscielny has already picked up a red card and will be suspended this weekend. Now, I don't think that will impact Arsenal's ability to unceremoniously bring Blackpool back to earth, but eventually they are going to need to cope with injuries and/or suspensions for a more difficult match. As soon as he sorts out the goalkeeping situation, Wenger needs to buy another centre-half, probably two.

Many are a bit more perplexed by the third problem. That is that during a given match, the Arsenal players do not seem particularly interested in scoring goals. This sounds absurd, but you can't watch them play and not come away with this feeling. This team absolutely dominates possession. The technical ability, the pace the movement, the accuracy, it is all a sight to behold. And they create chances, loads of chances, but they so often pass them up, and it is infuriating to watch.

The unwillingness to shoot is so ridiculous at times that it is frustrating for people who don't even support Arsenal. They ping the ball around, 15 or 20 yards from goal, creating opening after opening, yet never taking a shot. The second half against ten-man Liverpool was a prime example. Arsenal were down 1-0 to a Champion's League rival, and they barely took any shots. If Manchester United or Chelsea were down 1-0 and a man up in the second half, they would be taking a shot every 15 seconds. You watch these clubs and you see 25 or 30 efforts on goal, every match. With Arsenal it is shocking if they reach double digits in shots on goal.

There are some players in the squad that will shoot, particularly from distance. Most important are Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. Let's face it, we all know how different Arsenal play when those two are fit and on form. And I think this is why Chamakh has been brought in. He is a goal scorer, in talent and in mindset. All the Gunners have to do is take a few shots early in a match from 25 or 30 yards out. Just the threat of it forces defenders to come out and attempt to close them down, which leaves more room for them to get behind and create the tap-ins they seem to prefer.

All things considered, this club is a threat to win every trophy it is competing for this season, but I just can't see the succeeding with an upgrade at goalkeeper and two new central defenders. I doubt Arsene Wenger values my opinion very much, but he has two weeks to convince me Arsenal will win the title this season, and end their well-publicized drought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Arsenal for the title! You're having a laugh!